Militaire-Notre_glorieux_75-NDThere’s an old joke that asks “what’s a Mennonite ethical dilemma?” The answer varies depending upon the branch of the Church but it is typically either free beer or free dance lessons.

Me? Well, you can guess that my only problem with free beer is if the quality reflects the price. And free dance lessons? Well, no dance instructor would teach me and my two left feet for anything but a premium fee.

But frugality aside, I recently discovered a new ethical dilemma that hits me where it hurts.

In my efforts to serve you, dear reader, to the best of my abilities, I take seriously my responsibility to research and sample both classic and modern cocktails. While on one of my recent research trips, I came across the French 75, a cocktail that makes just about every list of classic must-have cocktails.

This cocktail is simply divine. There’s just no way around it. This is the best cocktail on the planet. Gin or brandy, lemon, simple syrup and a dry sparkling wine. It goes down easy but is strong enough to really mean it. It’s a beautiful, powerful little thing.

That’s not the ethical dilemma.

The problem emerged when I went and searched out the provenance of this seductive little drink and learned that it’s not such an innocent cocktail after all. Yessiree. It’s got a compromised past for all it’s dressed up all pretty with a twist of lemon.

In its shady past, however, it was a friend of war.

The cocktail’s name dates back to the beginning of WWI — to those heady days when young men and women across Europe imagined that war was about glory and honour and everything good. Not that everyone thought that; there were pacifists then too. But the people swirling their gin with their lemon behind the bars in Paris in 1914 were not the peace activists of yore. They were happily, obliviously, drinking their way to the trenches with stars in their eyes and bubbles in their glasses.

And so they named their delightful new beverage after their beloved killing machine, the French 75 mm field gun — sometimes just called the soixante-quinze. The French loved this mobile cannon like a Menno farm boy loves a tractor. They loved its aesthetics and its design; they loved its portability and its speed. Most of all, they loved the sense of power and protection that it gave them. They called it “the saviour of France.” They put it on postcards, made souvenirs, and wrote poems in its honour.  Which is more than a Mennonite ever did for a tractor but then tractors didn’t need to mask their true purpose as instruments of death.

WWI is most remembered for the horrors of the trenches, the destruction of much of northern France, and for its disastrous aftermath leading directly to WWII. And the losses. It’s remembered for the terrible losses that destroyed a generation. Many of which we can trace pretty directly to the lovely French 75, the “saviour of France.” Yikes.

Every year on November 11th, we remember WWI and, those of us with a bent towards peace remember it with a pledge to work for peace. Glorifying weapons and wartime bravado doesn’t have a part in that. Heck,  I even get grouchy about the Toronto air show. And so, my dilemma. Can I honour my commitment to peace while drinking a cocktail with a history of glorifying an instrument of war?

Well, now. You probably know I’ll try to wiggle my way around that dilemma. After all, drinking the cocktail does not, in itself, glorify an instrument of war any more than wearing a trench coat glorifies the trenches. Surely, we can think of it as one lovely thing that emerged despite it all, out of the madness of war.  Which would then allow me to drink the French 75 on November 11th in Remembrance, not because there’s glory in a big gun but because it’s worth remembering that people can so blithely come to believe that there is.

How’s that for a rationalization?

Either that, or I can just rename the drink The Conscientious Objector and offer a toast instead to the minority voices in the beginning of the century, Mennonite and otherwise, who knew in their hearts that there was no glory in a gun and no wisdom in the war. Take your pick. Either way, I’m not giving up this cocktail.Conscientious Objector

The Conscientious Objector

  • 1.5 oz gin (or brandy)
  • .75 oz freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • .75 oz simple syrup
  • dry sparkling wine

Mix the gin, lemon juice and simple syrup and pour into the bottom of a champagne flute. Fill the glass with sparkling wine and garnish with a twist of lemon. Drink while pondering the evils of glorifying machines of destruction, and committing yourself anew to the project of peace.